Posts Tagged ‘Ben Affleck’

Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

“AIR”  My rating: B  (Prime Video) 

111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Air” describes itself as “a story of greatness,” but exactly whose greatness is up for grabs.

Ostensibly the latest directing effort from Ben Affleck is  referring to the greatness of Michael Jordan, arguably the finest basketball player of all time and the namesake of Nike’s famous Air Jordan athletic shoe which debuted in 1984.  Except that we never see Michael Jordan in the film, save for some archival footage of him in action on the court.

Given Jordan’s physical absence as a character, one must go looking for other recipients of the “greatness” crown.

Well, there’s Nike founder and chief Phil Knight, portrayed by Affleck as a sort of Zen egoist who spouts woo woo philosophy while driving a bright purple sports car that cost more than what the average Joe earns in several years. Knight is an interesting oddball — practically an idiot savant — and good for some unintended laughs. But great? Nah. At best he’s a supporting character here.

A more likely candidate is Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro, whose job is to sign up rookie NBA players with Nike sponsorships.  

Sonny — who apparently has no life beyond sneakers and sports — is an underdog visionary determined to recruit NBA newbie Michael Jordan to the Nike camp, beating down fierce competition from Adidas and Converse. Everyone tells Sonny that  his quest is Quixotic, that Jordan is an Adidas fan and that Nike’s measly budget for basketball shoe promotion (the company’s fortune lies with running foot ware) is embarrassingly limited.

Sonny may have a pot belly and puffy jowls, but he exhibits some signs of greatness.  He’s the little engine that could, who uses grit, determination and smarts to pull off a marketing miracle.  A prime example of good ol’ American capitalist can-do spirit.

And then there’s the Air Jordan itself, an eye-catching explosion of red leather and rubber. Can a shoe have a personality?  Maybe.  But it can sure generate cash…in 2022 more than $5 billion. By this film’s definition, that’s pretty damn great.

You’ve got to credit director Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery with this at least — they elevate Sonny’s quest beyond the merely mercenary to the nearly mythic. Against our better judgment we find ourselves rooting for Sonny to pull off the marketing coup of the century.

Convery’s savvy screenplay features much Mamet-ish high-speed shop talk (various Nike conspirators are portrayed by the likes of Jason Bateman, Christ Tucker and Matthew Maher as the cellar-dwelling dreamer who actually hand crafts the first Air Jordan);  Chris Messina practically chews up the screen as David Falk, Jordan’s silkily venomous agent.

But the key to the movie may be the great Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris.  Early in the film Sonny is advised that “The mamas run stuff…especially in black families.”

Davis’ Deloris is both intimidating and huggable…a loving matriarch with a tough-as-nails business sense and an unshakeable faith in her boy’s value.  She makes Sonny improve his game.

There’s a beat-the-clock intensity at the heart of the film — Sonny and his colleagues must dream up and create an Air Jordan prototype in just one exhausting weekend — and the whole enterprise has been so cannily timed and bracingly acted that even those of us who care little about sports and even less about sports capitalism will find ourselves caught up in Sonny (and Nike’s) impossible dream.

|Robert W. Butler

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Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan

THE TENDER BAR” My rating:  B (Amazon Prime)

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Will the real Ben Affleck please stand up?

I cannot think of another major actor — okay…Nicolas Cage — whose public persona ranges so widely between genius and ass-hat smirk monkey. 

One cannot dismiss successes like Affleck’s Oscar-winning “Argo”; at the same time the man’s personal and romantic ups and downs are a publicist’s nightmare and a constant inspiration for late-night talk-show monologues.

I’m happy to report that Affleck gives one of his best performances — hell, one of the best performances of the year — in “The Tender Bar,”  George Clooney’s knowing adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s coming-of-age memoir.

Affleck is essentially a supporting player here but his work is so subtle, insightful and charismatic that all the tabloid baggage falls away and we are left in the thrall of an actor connecting perfectly with his character.

The rest of the film is no slouchfest, either. 

Early on young JR (played to perfection by first-timer Daniel Ranieri) and his mom (Lily Rabe) are forced by economic necessity to return to Mom’s blue-collar home town on Long Island. There they take up residence with crusty Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd), quiet Grandma (Sondra James) and especially JR’s uncle, Charlie (Affleck).

JR is essentially fatherless — his biological sire is a  boozing, womanizing, peripatetic radio deejay several years behind on the child support checks.  Under the circumstances one understands why the kid gravitates to his effortlessly suave uncle.

Charlie runs a working man’s bar filled with garrulous regulars.  Like young JR, Charlie is a huge consumer of good literature. At the same time, he never comes off as effete or uber-intellectual; he’s beloved by his dirt-under-the-nails customers for his arid irony, unforced toughness and down-to-earth humanism.

In effect Charlie and his barflies become JR’s adopted father figures, dispensing whiskey-fueled wisdom and (sometimes intentionally, often not) important life lessons.

Chsitopher Lloyd, Daniel Ranieri

The film wafts back and forth between JR’s boyhood and his young adulthood as an Ivy League university student bent on a literary career (he’s played at this age by Tye Sheridan).

We eavesdrop on his doomed love affair with an upper-middle-class fellow student (Briana Middleton); she’s the child of mixed-race parents who clearly think this proletarian yahoo isn’t nearly good enough for their daughter.

We follow him on his first foray into big-city newspapering.

And the film reaches a dramatic crescendo with a rare meeting of JR and his absent father (Max Martini) in which whatever dreams the kid may have of reconnection are dashed once and for all.

“The Tender Bar” is less a film of big dramatic moments than a gently unfolding idyll of self-discovery and familial nurturing. It’s wistful, warm and wise.

Affleck, Ranieri and Sheridan are terrific.  Also deserving of special notice is Lloyd, whose scraggly Grandpa turns out to be an incredibly smart guy hiding out in a seedy, grumpy-old-man exterior.  You can see where Uncle Charlie got his mojo.

| Robert W. Butler

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Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck

“THE ACCOUNTANT”  My rating: C+

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A killer with autism.

How has it taken Hollywood this long to glom onto such an awesome concept?

Consider: An efficient, ruthless assassin whose Asperger-ish condition guarantees that he won’t empathize with his targets no matter how much they beg. A stoic largely immune to crippling emotions like guilt, fear and panic. A wrecking machine who can pass for civil but at heart cannot create lasting attachments. An obsessive who, once he’s started a job, is driven to finish it.

I’d pay to see that movie.

Unfortunately, that movie isn’t “The Accountant.”

Oh, Ben Affleck’s latest makes noises like it’s heading that direction before deteriorating into silliness and mayhem. But the pieces never add up.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a CPA with an office in a south Chicago strip mall and a roster of mom-and-pop clients. But that’s only his cover.

In reality Christian is a mathematical savant and emotional cipher whose clients include drug cartels, mobsters, international arms dealers and other nasty folk. Whenever these crooks suspect that someone has been pilfering cash or cooking the books, they call in Christian to do a little forensic sleuthing.

With a mind like a mainframe computer, he always finds the culprit — who usually ends up in a landfill.

It’s dangerous work but pays well. In a rented storage facility Christian keeps an Airstream trailer packed with cash, weapons and authentic Renoir and Pollack canvases (which he has accepted from grateful clients in lieu of cash).

And as flashbacks reveal, he’s also deadly, having been trained by his military father in martial arts, ordnance, sniping and other skills that might be useful for a kid who is always being bullied.

The plot is set in motion when Christian is called in to audit a robotics firm where a lowly bean counter (Anna Kendrick) has stumbled across a bookkeeping anomaly. What our man finds puts both Christian and his gal pal in the crosshairs of an international criminal conspiracy. (more…)

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Rosamund Pike, Benn Affleck...in happier times

Rosamund Pike, Benn Affleck…in happier times

“GONE GIRL” My rating: A- (Opening wide on Oct. 3)

minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Affleck smirk — the way Ben Affleck, without even trying, looks like a high school halfback who has just initiated one of the new cheerleaders beneath the bleachers — is put to spectacular use in “Gone Girl.”

In David Fincher’s first-rate adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s dark suspense novel, Affleck plays a  handsome husband suspected of killing his beautiful wife, who has inexplicably gone missing. Here’s a poor jerk who — despite his best efforts to appear sympathetic in front of the cops, the cameras and the court of public opinion — can’t help coming off as insincere and smug.

Damn that Affleck smirk!

Or, rather, all hail the Affleck smirk, imbued as it is with ambivalence and leaving us uncertain about whether we should be cheering or booing the film’s protagonist.

That indecision could be problematical (moviegoers like being told what to think and feel), but “Gone Girl” nevertheless sucks us into the bitter (and bitterly funny) world fashioned by Fincher and Flynn (who adapted her own book for the screen — and in many respects actually improved upon the novel).

It’s a thoroughly satisfying mystery and suspense tale, sure, but “Gone Girl” also is one of the cinema’s most supremely cynical statements about the institution of marriage. It makes “The War of the Roses” seem warm and fuzzy.

And as if that wasn’t cake enough, we get for icing a hugely perceptive and bleakly comic depiction of the tabloid media, Internet opinion-making, and the astoundingly shallow fickleness of the American public.

There’s enough great stuff in here for three or four movies.  That Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Zodiac,” “Fight Club”) and Kansas City-reared Flynn keep it all in perfect balance is some sort of miracle.


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